Skip over navigation

Star Wars Episodes IV–VI

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Luke Skywalker

Luke’s quest to become a Jedi Knight is the main engine driving the plot of Star Wars Episodes IV–VI. Indeed, all of the epic battles and cosmic events going on around him are in a sense only the backdrop before which Luke’s inner struggles are played out. When we first meet Luke on Tatooine, he is a callow youth, dreaming of adventure and escape from the backwater setting in which he finds himself. The classic image from A New Hope, in which Luke stands looking out at the horizon as the twin suns of his home planet are setting, captures perfectly this romantic, dreaming quality of his character. Early in A New Hope, we also see the reckless, impetuous side of Luke’s character as he races off after R2 without telling his uncle and as he spies on the Sandpeople, almost getting himself killed thanks to his immaturity. However, Luke is also motivated by a strong sense of duty and a desire to be a part of something larger than himself. In the person of Ben Kenobi, Luke finds this desire answered, as Ben offers to help Luke become a Jedi Knight.

Through Ben, Luke gets the opportunity to travel, to help the Rebel Alliance against the evil Empire, to feel closer to the father he never knew (who was also a Jedi), and to grow as a person through contact with the Force. In this way, Ben becomes a surrogate father to Luke, replacing Uncle Owen, who mainly wants to keep Luke safe, close to home, and, in that sense, in a state of immaturity. Ben is soon taken from Luke by Darth Vader, the man Luke believes killed his real father, repeating before Luke’s eyes the act of parricide for which he already hates Vader. The irony, of course, is that Vader actually is Luke’s father, a truth that devastates Luke when he learns it. Disappointed in Ben for hiding the truth from him and horrified at what Anakin Skywalker has become, Luke must learn at last to be his own man, moving out of the shadows of his various father figures and even learning to stand apart from the “grandfather figures” of Yoda and the Emperor, who are also fighting for Luke’s loyalty.

In the end, Luke saves his father’s soul, gains a sister, and sees Yoda, Ben, and Anakin (his whole paternal set, as it were) united in the afterlife. Much of his success is thanks to Yoda, who encourages Luke to examine himself and to judge how much he has been motivated by a desire for glory and how much by a true devotion to others. Through Yoda’s teaching, Luke finally, after many missteps, learns to master his own feelings and gains a deeper insight to the feelings of others. By the end of the trilogy, the eager youth, constantly in over his head, has become the confident Jedi Knight, coolly strolling unarmed into Jabba’s palace and, even more challenging, refusing to take the easy, dark path of hatred and anger. Though actor Mark Hamill aged in the role over the course of the seven years it took to make the trilogy, it is impossible to imagine anyone else as Luke Skywalker—and to the detriment of Hamill’s later career, it became impossible for audiences to imagine him as anyone else.

Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker)

Darth Vader is one of pop culture’s universally recognized figures. His respirator-enhanced breathing, massive frame, and intimidating armored costume, as well as his tendency to enforce discipline in the Imperial ranks by summary execution, combine to make him the baddest of cinematic bad guys. Voiced by James Earl Jones, Vader is a truly awesome presence onscreen, easily one of the most convincing monsters ever to menace a princess and her rescuers. From the beginning, Vader represents the antithesis of the warmly human Ben Kenobi, who is full of wisdom and slow to anger but quick to defend others. Vader, on the other hand, lashes out casually at those who displease him, though he does so as if motivated by a cool, almost rational anger, rather than a raging fury. Vader’s conscious goal is to inspire fear wherever he goes and to use the anger and hatred this fear stirs up to control those around him. However, the surprising thing about Vader is that the monster turns out to be human after all.

For all of A New Hope and most of The Empire Strikes Back, Vader is a static character: the relentless foe of our heroes. At the end of Empire, however, comes the revelation that stunned twelve-year-old moviegoers everywhere in 1980—namely, that Vader is Luke’s father, whom Luke, up to that point, believed to have been slain by Vader himself. Much of the subsequent drama of Return of the Jedi hinges on Luke’s efforts to awaken the good that Luke believes, on rather little evidence, to be dormant within Vader’s soul. The change finally comes when Vader is at last beaten and spared by Luke, who is then nearly killed by the Emperor. Vader’s mask, impassive up to this point, is now lit cleverly in the glow of the Emperor’s force-lightning so that pained expressions seem to flit anxiously across Vader’s face. Finally, Anakin Skywalker reemerges from within Darth Vader, and he destroys the Emperor and saves his son. His last act is telling: he asks Luke to remove the mask so that he may see Luke with his own eyes—a rejection of the sinister man/machine aspects of Vader’s being. In the end, Anakin Skywalker stands, purged of Darth Vader, with Yoda and Obi-Wan, the masters he once rejected.

Han Solo

Han Solo, the brash smuggler captain with a heart of gold, is the character that made Harrison Ford Harrison Ford. Before Solo, Ford had appeared onscreen in supporting roles exclusively—after Solo, he was a bona fide star. Ford’s Han Solo is charismatic and sexy, the funniest character in A New Hope, and likable despite his apparent arrogance and selfishness. A major key to understanding Han’s character is the clue provided by his last name. Han is used to looking after only himself, with the Wookie Chewbacca as the lone exception to the rule. If Luke starts out as the romantic dreamer, still immature but eager, Han is the wised-up cynic, willing to fight but only in it for the money. (Ben, with his quiet dedication to the cause of right, stands as a rebuke to both Han and Luke.) Another clue is the connection between Han and his spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, a small freighter to which Solo has made extensive modifications in order to boost her speed. Like the Falcon, Solo is temperamental, something of a misfit, and distinctly untrustworthy in appearance. But over the course of the trilogy, Han, the quintessential loner, finds himself drawn into friendship with Luke, into a leadership position in the Rebellion, and into a romantic relationship with Leia.

Throughout much of the trilogy, Solo tries to resist commitment, whether to a person or to a cause, but finds his instincts overruled by his affection. For example, Solo initially leaves once he has his reward, but he returns to help Luke take on the Death Star. Later, he is set to leave again, but he delays his departure first to help rescue Luke and then to make sure Leia escapes during the evacuation of Hoth. Similarly, Han constantly needles Leia in order to get her to admit her affection for him but would never dream of being the first to express his feelings. Solo is later captured and held by Jabba the Hutt, giving his friends the chance return his loyalty, and Han is the one rescued. From this point on, Solo is a changed man, still cocky and brash, but now clearly committed to the Rebellion and to the woman he loves.

Princess Leia Organa

Carrie Fisher was still a teenager when she was cast as Princess Leia, and George Lucas gets a lot of mileage, especially early in the trilogy, out of the contrast between Leia’s youthful, sweet appearance and her sharp tongue and forceful manner. Leia is a post-feminist sort of princess, equally comfortable firing a blaster or piloting a ship as she is conducting a medal ceremony. Toward the end of the trilogy, we also learn that Leia has the potential to become a Jedi, just like Luke. Leia is a Senator, a princess, and a leader of the Rebel Alliance, and her devotion to duty and to the cause of freedom is one of her defining characteristics. This devotion prevents Leia from acknowledging to Han her growing love for him, and it even prevents her from admitting it to herself. Leia tells Han that he is needed as a leader and a pilot, but never that she needs him herself. Han, of course, tries to goad an admission out of her, but his efforts only cause her to bottle up her feelings even more, though she does make some efforts to inspire jealousy in Han by kissing Luke (before she learns that they are brother and sister). Leia finally tells Han that she loves him, just when it is almost too late and he is about to be frozen alive.

Leia takes part in the rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, freeing him from the carbon freeze, only to be taken captive herself by Jabba. Up to this point in the trilogy, Leia has dressed modestly, favoring practical, functional clothing over anything fancy. Now, however, she is forced by Jabba to don a revealing harem outfit, complete with gold bikini, and to wear a chain around her neck. Leia’s reaction to the situation is thoroughly in character and reveals the way her character smashes the adventure-fantasy stereotypes about sexy princesses. In the confusion caused by Luke’s surprise attack, Leia hops behind Jabba, loops the chain around his massive neck, and strangles him to death. Leia then helps Luke destroy Jabba’s barge before escaping with the others. The scene is a perfect summation of the kind of reversal of expectations typical of Leia throughout the trilogy.

More Help

Previous Next
Did Han shoot first?

by haysforhroses, July 11, 2012

So the overview says the Han blasted his way out of his confrontation with Greedo - but - did he shoot first? Anyone know for sure?

0 Comments

1 out of 2 people found this helpful

Revenge of the Sith in Plot Overview

by bjimenez5, January 02, 2013

Dear Sparknotes,
You should include Revenge of the Sith in the plot overviews. I also recommend you update your film list to include other famous classic films and movies that came out over the past ten or twenty years. Thanks.

0 Comments

2 out of 5 people found this helpful

Follow Us